Don’t Theologize or Spiritualize Ministry Mediocrity

I believe in the primacy of Christ-centered expository preaching in the life of the church. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones asserted in his classic book, Preaching and Preachers, “I would say without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.” I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. Lloyd-Jones also wrote in Preaching and Preachers, “True preaching, after all, is God acting. It is not just a man uttering words; it is God using him.”

Everything else in the church is derivative of God’s self-revelation in the Scripture, the Word of Christ  (Rom 10:17): We preach the Word, pray the Word, sing the Word, counsel the Word, and serve in light of the Word. Preaching is God’s chosen medium, and it will never go out of date. Humanity lives in the context of a battle of sermons. The Bible begins with the divine King of the universe proclaiming his word, but another voice intruded and clashed: the appearance of the serpent contradicting God’s word with his own proclamation is the first example of spiritual warfare in the Scripture. From the creation of the cosmos, kingdom warfare has been a conflict over the Word of God (which we have preserved for us in Scripture) and the Word of God (Jesus Christ), who is the final word (Heb 1:1-2). Thus, as a shepherd of Christ, the preacher stands defiantly in direct opposition to Satan’s parasitic kingdom and at the apex of kingdom conflict in this age.

Where preaching is weak, anemic, unfaithful, and compromised in a church, everything else in congregational life, no matter how well done, is merely impotent ecclesial smoke and mirrors. That is where I stand. Period. But this post is designed to confront a different problem among those who agree with me on the primacy of preaching. Why is it that so many churches that profess a commitment to the primacy of expository preaching, settle for mediocrity in so many other facets of the church’s ministry? In my experience, it is not uncommon in churches with a high view of preaching, and who are fundamentally committed to the sovereignty of God, to put little effort into the other aspects of ministry, which are derivative of our commitment to the Word. It seems to me that it should be exactly the opposite. A high view of preaching and a high view of God should lead us to a pervasive commitment to excellence in all things in the life of the church.

To put it another way, one who says that their commitment to the primacy of preaching, leads them to have little regard for the music, parking, greeting, signage, aesthetics, friendliness, hands-on ministry, evangelism, outreach, care-giving, announcements, and so on, is simply theologizing their laziness and apathy. Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” (“Sphere Sovereignty,” in James D. Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper, A Centennial Reader, 488). The pastor committed to the primacy of the word of Christ will be faithful and focused on the pulpit, but he should also examine every single aspect of ministry in the life of the church to make sure it reflects the glory of God in Christ. A valuable question to ask about every ministry and function in the church is, “How does the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead impact the way we do this?” Also, could Christ look at how we do each aspect of our ministry and say, “Mine!”?

If a pastor cannot explain how the church’s commitment to the Word and the gospel impacts how the church handles parking, greets visitors, does announcements, and so on, then that reflects a reductionistic and diminished view of the primacy of the Word. The result when this kind of diminished view of the primacy of the Word pervades the church, in the name of being Word-centered, is that the church often develops a self-righteous, holy-huddle, self-justifying theology, that attempts to spiritualize its own lack of passion to pervasively live out the Word. It often sounds something like this: “It is sad that so many rely on tricks and secondary matters in ministry. We do not care about that stuff here because we believe in the power of the Word.” In other words, the congregational narrative is that they are small and not growing because they are so faithfully committed to the Word. That could possibly be true, but it could also be because they are lazy, and their ministry lacks comprehensive commitment to live out the Word, in every nook and cranny of congregational life.

The way the church does the derivative stuff of congregational life, either proclaims that we actually believe what we say in the pulpit about the supremacy of Christ, or that we do not really believe it. When our commitment to the primacy of the Word and gospel does not trickle-down to every aspect of congregational life, we are like the obese person lecturing on the primacy of personal fitness or someone living opulent lifestyle lecturing about frugality. The Bible tells us that God is at work in the world summing up all things in Christ (Eph 1:10), so please do not try to co-opt Jesus to endorse ministry minimalism and laziness that refuses to sum everything up in Him.

By |January 28th, 2016|Categories: Blog|

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today


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  2. Kevin Thompson January 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    I think that the problem in many churches is not intentional. We have a “professional” trained to preach and exposit the Word, but volunteers everywhere else. Not many churches I know have large hired staffs that adequately meet the needs all the other non-preaching aspects of the ministry. Most of the churches I am familiar with are run by committed believers who are doing the best they can, but are overworked and stretched beyond their limits. What would your advice be to these smaller congregations just hanging in there?

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  5. Louis J Wachsmuth January 30, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Don’t fool yourself. Preaching is the worse avenue to cause spiritual growth in church members. Most listeners had heard every sermon a hundred times and are busy day dreaming about football or some movie. The day of the professional hired seminary degree expert is gone. The correct method involves a program of workshops so members practice memory work, writing skills, speaking skills, all based on the Bible. Let the poorly motivated christians stay home and watch their televisions.

  6. Tom Hardy January 30, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    I am all for giving it 100%, and that starts with the elders of the Church modeling it. However, the music and other aspects of a local body of believers is made up of people the way they are.
    In other words, I would rather attend a local Church that has a high view of Scripture and tries to emulate that in all areas of ministry; but never the less because of limited talent; the worship leaves a lot to be desired than a local body that sounds like they have professional singers, professional ushering, etc…, but compromises Scripture.
    The local Church I attend, tries to keep to the Scriptures and tries to get better in other area; but sometimes the Worship does not sound very professional. As a result, other Churches that sound professional gain a lot more adherents.
    However, as far as I am concerned most of them are not true biblical Churches.

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